A whole lotta awesome this week, and other than the obvious (teams that lose are unlikely to think that game was awesome), not much that wasn’t.
San Diego announces an outdoor game
Back in 2020, the Seals announced that they’d be playing an outdoor game on a Marine base in San Diego. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to that, but given how excited everyone was about that game, it’s not a huge surprise that they’ve scheduled another one. On March 4, the Seals will be playing the Desert Dogs at Snapdragon Field at San Diego State University, which will be the first-ever outdoor NLL game. Not a lot of other NLL teams could pull off an outdoor game in early March, but given that we’ve had teams in Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Anaheim in the past, it’s a bit surprising that none of them have done this.
Mammoth sign Rhys Duch
Duch was released by Halifax just before opening weekend, and it’s not surprising that someone picked him up. It might be a bit surprising that it’s the defending champs that did, but the Mammoth have some serious injury issues right now. Ryan Lee and Chris Wardle are both out, and apparently Tyson Gibson is out for the season. They only managed six goals in their season opener, and it’s hard to argue that adding Duch wouldn’t make their offense better. It works out well for Duch as well, since he no longer has to do the literal coast-to-coast commute from his home in Victoria BC to Halifax NS (flight distance: 4475 km or 2781 miles).
I saw a lot of people wondering why the Thunderbirds released Duch, and some even berating them for doing it. But given that commute and the fact that Halifax’s offense was much improved this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if Duch asked them to do it. He’d have figured he was likely to sign somewhere, and wherever that was would be closer to home.
Las Vegas makes their debut
A year and a half after the announcement was made that Las Vegas was getting an NLL team, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs made their NLL debut on Friday night against last year’s newcomers, the Panther City Lacrosse Club. But as I said on twitter, the days of terrible expansion teams like the Ottawa Rebel
and Anaheim Storm are long over. (Anaheim wasn’t actually an expansion team – thanks to Brandon for pointing that out.) The Desert Dogs may have lost the game, but they played very well. We expected Rob Hellyer to be strong, and he was, but they also got strong performances from guys we might not have been expecting: Jon Phillips and John Wagner had two goals and two assists apiece, and rookie Jack Hannah’s name was mentioned a lot on the broadcast too. Connor Kirst, Tor Reinholdt, and Travis Cornwall played well on the defense, and as for goaltending, Joel Watson had a decent outing but Landon Kells shut PCLC out in the fourth quarter, so the Dogs have to be happy about that.
I’m not sure they’re a playoff team, but (a) nobody’s expecting that and (b) it’s only been one game so I might be entirely wrong. The Bandits are also 0-1 but I’m pretty sure they’re a playoff team. We saw how Panther City came together about halfway through last season and despite beginning the season 1-8, almost made the playoffs, so there’s no reason Vegas can’t do the same. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Shawn Williams’s abilities as a coach and if they’re anywhere near his abilities as a player, the Desert Dogs are in good hands. And yes, that picture on the right is Shawn, a few
years decades ago.
Seals vs. Rush
I missed most of the first quarter of this game, but watching the next couple of quarters, a number of things became clear:
- Alex Buque was on his game, and when that happens, he’s one of the best
- Saskatchewan was not the Rush we saw last year, but more like the Rush from the previous five or six years
- San Diego’s offense just wasn’t clicking
Obviously the Rush will win this game and the Seals will learn from it and come out stronger in their next game. But wait! In the fourth quarter, everything changed:
- Buque changed from being borderline unbeatable in the first three quarters to quite beatable.
- Chris Origlieri replaced Frank Scigliano in the Seals net and was even more unbeatable than Buque had been
- San Diego’s offense was clicking just fine, thanks
Down 10-3 with a minute left in the third, the Seals scored nine straight goals in 8:19 and kept the Rush off the board for almost fifteen minutes to take a two-goal lead. The Rush fought back and tied it with under a minute left to force overtime, and then Curtis Dickson capped off the comeback with the winner a couple of minutes into the extra frame. So now it’s the Rush that will learn from it and come out stronger in their next game. But if you think Patrick Merrill will be excited about the win and gloss over the lack of scoring in the first three quarters, you’re fooling yourself. That means that the Seals will likely learn from that game and come out stronger as well. That’s kind of scary.
Let’s be honest, not a lot of people were expecting much from the Knighthawks this year. Probably better than last year, but with the very strong Rock, Thunderbirds, and Bandits in the same division, they were unlikely to be a playoff contender. Obviously it’s still early in the season but they have gained respect from an awful lot of people in the last couple of weeks – particularly members of the Georgia Swarm and the Toronto Rock. Rylan Hartley didn’t have a particularly great year in 2022 either, with a GAA over 12 though his save percentage was a respectable 77%. I didn’t watch the Georgia / Rochester game last week so I can’t comment on that one but in this game, Hartley was unbelievable. As they say, he made all the stops he was expected to make, plus a bunch he wasn’t. There were even a few that people are still trying to figure out how he made.
The Knighthawk defense was very strong in front of Hartley and they did a great job of dictating where the Rock could and could not shoot from. I thought Biles and Ogilvie in particular played very well, not only in forcing turnovers and grabbing loose balls, but generally getting in the way and preventing the Rock from having anywhere to shoot. But even when the Rock got through the D, Hartley was there to shut the door. That was likely the best game of Hartley’s short career and not only gives him confidence that he can play with the best of them, it gives the rest of the team confidence in their goalie, which is huge.
Before I say any of this, let me reiterate that Rylan Hartley and the entire Rochester defense played an outstanding game on Saturday night. I’m not trying to take anything away from that. But the Rock offense was quite sloppy most of the night. They missed the net on an awful lot of shots, there were missed passes, dropped balls, it just wasn’t the strong offense we’ve seen from the Rock recently. Now, those events are no doubt correlated; if the opposing defense only allows you to take shots through traffic from distance or from bad angles, you’re going to miss a lot of them. But even when unchallenged, the Rock were missing the net a lot, and I think the announcer even mentioned that in the first half. There was no desperation at that point, but later in the game it became clear that the Rock’s game plan was not working and so they had to adjust their game. Maybe they took more risks and tried things they may not normally try. Since Hartley was playing out of his mind, those things didn’t work either so they looked sloppy. As Matt Sawyer said at halftime, “they’re just better than us right now” and “right now” turned into the whole game. But it’s just one game. Like everyone else, the Rock will be watching a lot of that footage this week to learn everything they can and come out stronger.
Panther City attendance
I haven’t seen any attendance numbers for any of the NLL games thus far, but there were an awful lot of empty seats at the Panther City / Las Vegas game on Saturday. PCLC didn’t have great numbers last year, with attendance between 3,500 and 7,300, with an average around 5,000. Of course, NLL attendance numbers last season were all over the map, with several games played to empty arenas and many teams with far lower attendance than usual. Many people were still reluctant to go back to crowded arenas, so last year’s numbers are somewhat suspect and probably shouldn’t be used to determine how well a team is doing in their local market. That said, while the pandemic is still not over, the crowd in Fort Worth was very sparse. They have an exciting team to watch in Panther City, so hopefully we see those numbers start to climb.